Sometimes we see some of our fears as being irrational, but oftentimes our fears are very rational and there’s a reason why we have the fears we do. But even if your fears are irrational, and maybe a little silly, your fears are still valid.
The fear of death is a fear that many people struggle with. It makes sense, right? Death is an unknown for everyone, and the unknown is scary! And if you struggle with anxiety, panic disorder, and agoraphobia, you likely already struggle with things that are beyond your control. But the thing is, you can have a healthy relationship with death. I know that this sounds a little odd, but it’s true! The thoughts and fears you have surrounding death don’t need to lead to excessive worrying, obsessing, anxiety, panic, and symptoms.
Throughout my life, I’ve had many thoughts about death. I’ve thought...
What happens to me when I die? Where do I go? Do I go somewhere, or does my life just end?
When am I going to die? What if it’s tomorrow…
What if I or someone I love gets a disease that kills me/them?
What happens to me if my mom or brother dies?
What if I go somewhere after I die and it’s a bad place?
What if I don’t get to have a family or a child? What if I never get to do or see the things I want to do and see?
What if I die during this panic attack?
What if I die because of anxiety, panic disorder, and agoraphobia?
As a teenager, I had developed an unhealthy relationship with death. The fear of dying consumed my thoughts and had begun to dictate how I was living (and not living) my life. I would often stay home and not go places and do things because I feared that something bad would happen to me. And if my family members didn’t come home when they were supposed to, my mind immediately thought that something bad had happened to them.
And then in my early twenties, I experienced a really bad panic attack while at work. I remember feeling a wave of panic suddenly come over me. I began sweating, shaking, and my heart started beating fast, then I felt dizzy and nauseous. My body was in full blown fight-or-flight mode. I went to a bathroom and vomited several times and had diarrhea. I remember laying on the bathroom floor, with my vision and hearing fading in and out, thinking that I was going to die. Thankfully, a co-worker came looking for me, and next I knew I was in the trauma unit.
I experienced two more panic attacks like this one but not quite as severe. After I had experienced these panic attacks, I began worrying and obsessing over the fact that every panic attack could and would be that bad. I sometimes convinced myself that I was going to spontaneously die during panic attacks. These panic attacks and my thoughts only fueled my fear of death even more.
And then when I was 26 my grandfather died. He was someone that I was incredibly close to. Thankfully he lived a long life, and I have many amazing memories of our time together, but it was still hard. And when he died, something very strange happened… A couple of days after he died, I called my mom and said, “I don’t know why mom but I feel peace. It’s like papa is helping me through this.” My grandfather’s death truly caused me to look into spirituality and what beliefs I actually had and not just the ones I was taught as a child.
All of these events caused me to face the reality that I had been allowing my thoughts to control me and my feelings. I wasn’t living my life, and I knew that I was the only person that could change that.
So here are some things that helped me to work through and overcome my fear of death...
1. I acknowledged and accepted that death is going to happen to me and to those I love. And I would give myself productive and healthy messages often.
Here are some examples of the messages that I would give myself:
I accept that I will die at some point but it’s not happening right now and right now I choose to live in the present moment.
I choose to be present so that I can show up for me and for my loved ones. I will always give me and my loved ones my best, most loving, and supportive self.
When I die, the love I have for people and the love they have for me won’t go away.
When I die, I may not physically exist anymore but all of the things that I leave behind will always exist (the memories, love, and my legacy).
2. I started doing gratefulness practices every day. Gratefulness practices help to put the focus on the good that you do have in your life so that you don’t focus on all of the other stuff that isn’t productive, healthy, or even your reality. Every morning, I would write down a list of what I was grateful for at that moment and I would say them out loud. I still do this practice to this day!
3. I began making healthier choices. I worked to reduce stress, started getting adequate sleep, began making better choices when it came to my diet, started moving my body every day, and I began putting me and my mental health first always. And I continue to make healthy choices that I know will increase my lifespan.
4. I started to dive into my spirituality and my beliefs. I was raised in a religious environment, but I knew that I didn’t hold the beliefs of the religion that I was taught. So I started reading, listening, and researching different ideas and beliefs. Doing this helped me incredibly. Learning and adopting my current spiritual beliefs has helped me through many tough moments.
5. I started living my life! I began to do the things that I feared by pushing myself to take small steps forward. I had so many goals and things that I wanted to do in my life, and so I wrote them all down, picked one, and took small steps to reach that goal until I made it happen! If you haven’t read my post on Exposure Therapy, check it out to get more tips that will help you to start doing the things you fear.
6. I challenged my thoughts every single day. Anxiety, panic, and the symptoms had never led to death and they weren’t going to. So when I had those unproductive, unhealthy, and negative thoughts, I challenged them and gave myself productive, healthy, and positive messages to replace them with. I know that anxiety, panic attacks, and the symptoms can all make you FEEL as though you are dying, but you have always successfully worked through every anxious and panicky moment and you will continue to.
Remember, the messages you give yourself are incredibly powerful. What you tell your brain is what it’s going to believe and also dictates how you feel. You might not be in control of when you or your loved ones die, but you are in control of RIGHT NOW.
You are capable of living your life!